“The Neighbors” (2014)

Normally this blog is reserved for 70s and 80s television, but when an opportunity arose to watch Tommy Wiseau’s “sitcom” The Neighbors, I took it, figuring that, while it would be undoubtedly terrible, it would also be harmlessly amusing, and make for an entertaining post here.

Reader, I think it broke me.

Allow me an explanation: while I don’t spend nearly as much time as I used to indulging in bad movies, I do enjoy The Room. If you haven’t seen The Room by now, it’s probably not your thing anyway, and that’s okay. I was a latecomer, and I’ve only seen it at audience participation theater screenings, which seems to be the optimal setting. I would never watch it at home by myself, because in addition to being ineptly written, directed, filmed, edited, and acted, it’s also boring, as most movies about love triangles are. In an audience setting, though, with people dressed up like the characters, throwing plastic spoons, and clapping along to the R&B slow jam played during the interminable sex scenes, it’s a lot of fun. Hey, you have your pleasures, and I have mine, no shame.

Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s one time best friend and co-star, wrote a book about the making of The Room that was both entertaining and unsettling. I say unsettling because by the time we reach the end of the book, we don’t really know anything more about Wiseau than we did at the beginning. That’s not due to any lack of insight on Sestero’s part–it seems like he revealed as much as he actually knew about Wiseau himself, which proved to be very little. All that can be gleaned about him is that he’s not fooling anyone with that accent into thinking he was born in the U.S., as he steadfastly claims, he funded The Room by selling irregular jeans and dealing in real estate (not to mention probably shilling horny old ladies for cash, like a greasy, charmless Max Bialystock), and he really does believe he’s a tremendously talented filmmaker and actor.

Interviews with him shed no insight as to whether or not he gets that people love The Room because it’s awful, or in spite of it. More than a decade into The Room becoming an odd pop culture touchstone, Tommy Wiseau still comes off as a creepy cipher, and the suggestion that he may have simply fell to Earth one day from a planet somewhere west of Jupiter doesn’t seem so odd.

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“Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again” (1990)

I may have miscategorized this. It’s easy to see how Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again happened. It rode the tide of wildly successful feature length “reunions” of 60s TV shows, like The Andy Griffith ShowLeave it to Beaver, and The Many Loves of Dobie GillisArchie may have never been a live action show, but it was still a benchmark moment in Baby Boomer pop culture, so why not give it the same treatment? What is baffling are the numerous decisions that were made to turn an innocuous comic book series about small town teenagers into an insufferably smug, occasionally downright seedy comedy for grownups.

The movie opens on the weekend of Archie and the gang’s fifteen year high school reunion. I don’t know that people often celebrate their fifteen year high school reunion, nor do I think many high school principals get involved in the planning of said reunion, but for Mr. Weatherbee it’s clearly the event of the year, as he promises “field trips, parties, a carnival, and a concert featuring Riverdale’s biggest band…the Archies!” I got stuffed shells at a catering hall hosted by a DJ wearing a Hawaiian shirt at my reunion, but perhaps your experience was different.

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“Poochinski” (1990)

In the review of Laverne and Shirley in the Army, I discussed “high concept,” the fine art of encapsulating the plot of a movie or TV show in as few words as possible. I initially thought that LASITA, which explains the plot in its title, might have been the master of high concept. I now amend that to cartoons only–in terms of sitcoms it gets no more beautifully concise than the 1990 pilot for Poochinski, which can be fully, and accurately described in four words: “farting dog solves crimes.”

I probably could have added in one extra word: “talking.” The farting dog also talks. But I have the feeling that when this show was pitched to NBC, farting was deemed the more relevant detail. You’d think that, given that premise, this would be a show intended for children, and yet it also includes jokes about sexual harassment, and a scene in which a dog almost literally rapes a woman. The question here isn’t “How did this happen?” so much as “What did NBC turn down in favor of this?”

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Joan Crawford: “My Way of Life”

Image result for joan crawford my way of life

Sometimes the smallest, random thing can brighten a rotten day. After a few years of searching, I had given up on finding a copy of Joan Crawford’s 1971 book My Way of Life. A camp classic going for as much $450 on eBay, it had become one of my Holy Grails of out of print books. Then, with little fanfare, it was released in February as an ebook, for the much more affordable $6.99. Almost as if the fates had intervened, in the middle of a truly atrocious afternoon I received an email from Amazon letting me know it was available, and I have never clicked a “buy it now” button faster.

If you’re under 50, it’s likely that your first exposure to Joan Crawford was not by way of Crawford herself, but rather the camp-horror version played by Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest. The movie that redefined what it means to be “so bad it’s good,” it was based entirely on Christina Crawford’s memoirs about life with a superstar mother who abused her children for the crime of not constantly expressing gratitude. Thanks to both the book and its film adaptation, a fictionalized version of Joan Crawford as a cold cream smeared gorgon has become a much more indelible part of the pop culture zeitgeist than any of her actual movie roles.

My Way of Life follows the grand tradition of celebrity autobiographies that tell you exactly two things: doodly and squat. Largely a collection of tips and anecdotes about the incredibly precise manner in which Joan Crawford does things, the only dish she offers here is of the chafing variety. While Joan does briefly touch upon a difficult childhood, it’s spun in positive terms. There is not a single adversity she is unable to overcome, better and stronger for it. Having to maintain four jobs to support herself as a teenager taught her the importance of a strong work ethic. A casting agent criticizing her weight (a whopping 130 pounds at the time) made her realize how much appearances mattered. She only has warm, complimentary things to say about her first three husbands. Not only did she spin these difficult experiences into gold, she never complained about it to anyone.

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